Meditation is a practice that has been around for thousands of years and is known for its ability to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being. At its core, meditation involves the cultivation of mindfulness and an increased awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and surroundings. Unlike concentration and focus, which involve directing attention towards a specific object or task, meditation encourages a broader, more open awareness of one’s experiences in the present moment. While meditation can be used as a tool to improve concentration and focus, it is distinct in its emphasis on developing a non-judgmental and compassionate attitude towards one’s thoughts and experiences. Through regular practice, meditation has been shown to have numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits and can be a powerful tool for self-growth and personal development.
Meditation vs. Concentration vs. Focus
Throughout the day we are engaged in some action. When we are not involved in any apparent action, we are lost in thoughts and dreams which is another form of action. There seems to be not a single moment where we are not engaged in some kind of physical or mental action. If we can understand this functional mode of our existence and take a step towards remaining totally unoccupied with action, we are in a state of meditation.
Thus, in meditation, we suspend in the present moment without getting caught up in the habitual patterns of thinking, reacting or acting. During meditation, practitioners try to let go of any thoughts, emotions, or sensations that may arise and instead aim to maintain a state of detached observation. This allows them to gain insight into their own thoughts and emotions, and to develop a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional regulation.
So, while initially meditation does involve some effort on the part of the practitioner, the emphasis is on non-doing or non-action. The goal is not to achieve a particular outcome or state, but to simply be present in the moment and observe what arises, without judgment or reaction.
Meditation is not concentration
We have to understand that meditation is not concentration. Meditation and concentration are related practices, but they are not the same thing.
Concentration is the ability to focus the mind on a single point or object, without being distracted by other thoughts or sensations. It involves the deliberate EFFORT to direct and sustain attention on a specific target, such as the breath, a sound, a visual image, a mantra, or for that matter any activity.
Concentration is also the ability to generate a number of thoughts but all related to each other and arranged in sequential order. Concentration is mandatory to achieve success in any task or target.
Meditation, on the other hand, is a broader and more inclusive practice that involves cultivating awareness, mindfulness, and non-judgmental acceptance of one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. In meditation, the aim is not to suppress, control, or think thoughts, but to develop a more spacious and open awareness that allows thoughts, emotions, and sensations to come and go without getting caught up in them. Hence, meditation is EFFORTLESS.
Meditation is different from focus
Again meditation and focus are related practices, but they are not the same thing. Focus involves directing one’s attention toward a specific task or object, often in order to achieve a specific goal, or outcome. This may involve narrowing one’s attention to a particular aspect of the present moment and ignoring distractions or competing stimuli.
Focus can be best understood by a story from Mahabharat, where guru Dronacharya was teaching archery to students. Once he asked his students to shoot at the center of the eye of a bird’s specimen placed on a tree. He called them one by one and showing the bird, he asked them what they saw. Everyone except Arjuna, said that they saw the tree, the branches, the bird, etc and so everyone missed the target. When Arjuna’s turn came Dronacharya asked “what do you see?” Arjuna replied: “I see the center of the bird’s eye”. Do you see anything else, asked Dronacharya again? To which Arjuna replied “nothing”. Saying so Arjuna released the arrow and it just hit the target straight. That’s Focus. A single thought, single object, single goal.
While focus involves some level of mental effort or strain, meditation aims to cultivate a state of mental relaxation and non-reactivity. The goal is not to achieve a specific outcome or state, but to simply be present at the moment and observe what arises with an open and non-judgmental attitude. In summary, while both focus and meditation involve directing one’s attention towards a particular object or task, meditation aims to cultivate a broader awareness of the present moment, maintaining a witness attitude to whatever arises in the present moment.
To conclude, meditation, concentration, and focus are three practices that are used for spiritual progression and to improve mental clarity and productivity. While they share some similarities, there are also distinct differences between them. Meditation involves letting go or dropping off a sustained effort of focusing of attention to achieve a state of relaxation and heightened awareness. In other words, the effortless flow of focus is meditation. On the other hand, concentration involves directing one’s attention toward a specific task or object, while filtering out distractions and streamlining thoughts. Lastly, focus is the ability to direct one’s attention towards a single goal or objective, and to stay on track until that goal is achieved. Unlike concentration, which can be directed towards a specific task or object, focus is more goal-oriented and requires a deeper level of mental commitment.
To put all three in order of inner experience, we start from concentration, narrow down into focus and finally dissolve into the expanse of meditation.